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"Mah Tovu!

07/04/2018 04:19:21 PM


Rabbi Reuben Israel Abraham, CDR, CHC, USN (ret)

In Parashat Pinchas we will read about how Eretz Kena'an, the Land of Canaan, is to be divided up into an inheritance amongst the Tribes of Israel.  Our Torah tells us that only sons can inherit the Land.  But then we read the following: "Our father had no sons.  Why should our father be diminished?...Give us a portion." (Bemidbar 27:3-4)  The daughters of Tzelofechad are demanding what they consider their rightful inheritance, and we find that Moshe consults with HaShem about their request.  H-s reply is as follows: "The daughters of Tzelofechad are speaking correctly." (Bemidbar 27:7)  Subsequently the law is established that if a father has no sons, the daughter inherits the land.  At this point one might inquire as to why the Torah did not teach this law at the outset.  Why must it be promulgated after the daughters of Tzelofechad approach Moshe with their request?  A colleague of mine has stated that the answer to this question is HaShem wants B'Nei Yisrael to learn this lesson on their own through education.  I think this education process has never stopped and continues among our people today.

On November 18, 2009, a woman was arrested for the "crime" of wearing a tallit at the Kotel HaMa'aravi, the Western Wall.  Here was a situation where Israeli police were called upon to enforce halakhah, Jewish law, at the Western Wall, the holiest site for the People Israel.  Here was a situation where a woman was denied the right to practice halakhah in a manner that is permitted by many great traditional rabbinic authorities.  Here was a situation where the Israeli government denied this woman the right to practice Judaism as authorized by halakhah.

The mitzvah, the commandment, to wear a tallit is found in Bemidbar 15:38: "Speak to B'Nei Yisrael and command them to make tzitzit on the corners of their garments."  Tzitzit are found on both the tallit gadol worn during the shacharit prayer service as well as on the tallit katan, the smaller garment worn as a piece of clothing.  The Talmud Bavli (Babylonian Talmud) in Masekhet Menachot 43a states: "The rabbis taught: all are obligated in the laws of tzitzit: Kohanim, Levi'im, and Yisraelim, converts, women, and slaves.  Rabbi Shimon exempts [not prohibits] women because it is a positive commandment limited by time, and from all positive commandments limited by time women are exempt."  So, according to this passage of the Talmud Bavli, the debate as to whether women are obligated to wear tzitzit is a debate between the Tanna Kamma and Rabbi Shimon. We learn in Masekhet Sukkah 11a that two other Talmudic Sages, Rabbi Yehudah and Rabbi Amram HaTzaddik, would attach tzitzit to the aprons of the women in their houses.  Even Rambam ruled in Hilkhot Tzitzit 3:9: "Women who want to wear tzitzit wrap themselves in it without a blessing."  Rabbis of Northern Europe allowed women to wear a tallit even going so far as to permitting them to recite a blessing when doing so: "And it is permissible for them to make a blessing on time-bound positive commandments even though they are not required to perform those mitzvot...and if we would not let them make a blessing they would lose out on the mitzvah of tzitzit...." (Tosafot Rosh Hashanah 33a)

What we see here is that one of the reasons that Judaism is eternal is because it deals with the reality, and not the perceived reality, of any situation.  We must look upon our tradition as one which "flexes" in order to be inclusive and not exclusive.  A short while ago in our own sanctuary here at CSS a woman attended a Shabbat morning service wearing a tallit.  Contrary to what some might see as a challenge to existing Orthodox/traditional tenets of halakhah, this woman was merely exercising her halakhic right to wear tzitzit.  This woman, like the woman arrested at the Kotel HaMa'aravi, was following the teachings of Rambam, Rabad, Tosafot, and the Chayyei Adam.

What the daughters ofTzelofechad and the woman arrested at the Western Wall teach us is that, instead of perpetuating and expanding upon what divides us, we must embrace and magnify what unites us.  While we may not agree upon everything, we must always work together to prevent permanent disruption within the People Israel.

Tue, July 27 2021 18 Av 5781